Covering The Cost


Over the last decade, the cost of college textbooks has soared. Since 2006, the cost of a college textbook increased by 73% - over four times the rate of inflation. Today, individual textbooks often cost over $200, sometimes as high as $400.


The Student PIRGs

Textbook prices have increased unabatedly because the textbook market lacks two major economic forces.

Normal Market:

  • Competition in the market forces prices down 
  • Consumer choice rewards 
companies that compete on price and quality


Textbook Market:


  • Five major publishers control 80% of the market, locking out competitors 

  • The student – the consumer – has no choice in which textbook they’re assigned 

For nearly 30 straight years, textbook publishers have exploited their unchecked power in the market through a variety of tactics designed to drive up the cost of new books, and undermine cheaper market alternatives like used textbook programs.

However: since textbook sticker prices appear small in comparison with the larger costs of tuition or room and board, they are often overlooked, and addressing this problem is often deprioritized.

At the same time, no research to date — including our own — has attempted to investigate the degree at which prices actually affect student’s financial standing and behavior. As a result, the case for prioritizing action around textbook prices has lacked urgency and potency.

The result of a nationwide survey of nearly 5,000 students, this report introduces a new dimension to our understanding of the problem: that high textbook prices are serious cause for concern about our students’ financial well-being.